Top 25 Countdown: No. 10 Baylor Bears

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 30-8, 12-6 Big 12 (t-3rd); Lost to Kentucky in the Elite 8

Head Coach: Scott Drew

Key Losses: Perry Jones III, Quincy Acy, Quincy Miller

Newcomers: Isaiah Austin, Ricardo Gathers, LJ Rose, Chad Rykhoek, Taurean Prince

Projected Lineup:

G: Pierre Jackson, Sr.
G: Brady Heslip, Jr.
F: Deuce Bello, So.
F: Ricardo Gathers, Fr.
C: Isaiah Austin, Fr.
Bench: LJ Rose, Fr.; AJ Walton, Sr.; Cory Jefferson, Jr.; J’Mison Morgan, Sr.; Gary Franklin, Jr.

Outlook: Baylor is coming off of a weird season. They won 30 games and made it all the way to the Elite 8 before losing to the eventual national champions. But anyone you ask will tell you that the Bears were an utter disappointment last year. That’s what happens when you have a front line that includes Perry Jones III, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy and spend the season on the outside looking in when it comes to the conversation for the elite teams nationally.

Think about it like this: Baylor went 1-6 against Kansas, Missouri and Kentucky last season and finished 29-2 against the rest of the country. That trip to the Elite 8? It consisted of wins over No. 14 South Dakota State, No. 11 Colorado (who finished sixth in the Pac-12), and No. 10 Xavier, who disappointed all season long and beat Lehigh to make the Sweet 16.

So why should we trust a team that disappointed for all of 2012 and saw four of its top six scorers leave?

It’s simple: Pierre Jackson.

Believe it or not, Jackson actually led the Bears in scoring last season while finishing third in the Big 12 is assists and second in steals. He may stand just 5-foot-10 on a good day, but he’s as athletic as any back court player in the country. He can get into the paint and finish amongst the trees, he can drive to create and he can hit threes. Defensively, his diminutive size and his quickness make him a pest on the ball.

That’s all well and good, but the reason that I think Jackson can carry this team is that he wants to be ‘the man’. Last season, it was Jackson with the ball in his hands at crunch time and Jackson who was taking last-second shots. The problem, however, was that everyone — including the Baylor coaching staff — wanted, expected and hoped that PJ3 would eventually figure it out and live up to his immense potential. I think that hindered Jackson, but with a young team sitting squarely on his shoulders this year, I’m expecting big things. I think he’ll have a senior season similar to that of Jacob Pullen and Sherron Collins.

Jackson will have plenty of backcourt support. Junior Brady Heslip is one of the most dangerous shooters in the country, knocking down threes at a 45.5% clip last season. AJ Walton and Gary Franklin are veterans that can score but are turnover prone, and their minutes may get taken by freshman LJ Rose is Rose can perform well. Baylor played some of their best basketball last season when they went with a three-guard set, and that may be the case again this season. One guy to keep an eye on this year will be Deuce Bello, a 6-foot-3, former top 50 shooting guard. Bello is renowned for his dunking ability, but the rest of his game is still catching up to his athleticism.

The good news for Jackson is that, once again, Scott Drew has brought in a talented recruiting class. It’s headlined by a pair of big men that could very well slide into Drew’s starting lineup. The biggest name is the biggest player on the roster, 7-foot-1 Isaiah Austin, a top ten recruit nationally. Austin is similar to PJ3 is that he’s a perimeter-oriented player, with the handle and range of a two-guard. The knock on his throughout his high school career was that he wasn’t tough enough to play in the paint at a high level, but there are signs that he addressed that before he graduated.

And even if he didn’t, the Bears will have some muscle around the basket. Ricardo Gathers is a bullying, 6-foot-7 forward from Louisiana that was a four-star recruit. Joining them up front will be junior Cory Jefferson and senior J’Mison Morgan.

Predictions?: This season hinges on two things for the Bears: how much of an impact those freshmen big men will have and just how good Pierre Jackson truly is. If Jackson has a Big 12 Player of the Year caliber season and Austin and Gathers both end up being good enough to deserve consideration for all-Big 12 honors, Baylor will be one of the best teams in the Big 12.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Grand Canyon lands Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson

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Grand Canyon landed an important piece for its NCAA tournament push on Saturday night as Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson pledged to the Antelopes.

The 6-foot-3 Benson will be eligible right away as spent the past three seasons with the Ducks as a key reserve guard, helping Oregon to multiple deep NCAA tournament runs. Benson picked Grand Canyon over Wisconsin for his final season of college basketball as Benson’s brother, T.J., is an assistant coach with the Antelopes.

Benson shot 40 percent from three-point range last season while also being a steady ball handler over the course of his career at Oregon as he has only 81 career turnovers in over 2,600 career minutes with the Ducks. While Benson wasn’t asked to score a lot for a loaded Oregon team that featured multiple bucket-getters, he could be asked to do more at Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon is eligible for the NCAA tournament for the first time next season as the addition of Benson gives them an experienced guard who should be more of a factor in the WAC. The Antelopes are coming off of a 22-9 season in which they finished 11-3 in conference play.

With great facilities and a quickly-growing fan base, head coach Dan Majerle has the potential makings of a perennial mid-major conference contender if he continues to recruit well to Grand Canyon.

Colorado adds commitment from Class of 2017 point guard McKinley Wright

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Colorado landed one of the best available point guards for next season on Friday as Class of 2017 floor general McKinley Wright committed during an official visit.

A former Dayton commit who opted out of his recruitment after former head coach Archie Miller took the Indiana job, Wright was one of the best available point guards left as he played last weekend on the adidas Gauntlet in front of college coaches with D1 Minnesota.

The 6-foot-0 Wright gives the Buffaloes another ball handler and distributor as he was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball during this past season. As a senior, Wright averaged 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

It’s always hard to say if spring recruits who elevate a level in recruiting after decommitting are making the correct decision, but Wright looked the part of a high-major lead guard last weekend, and Colorado wasn’t the only high-major program that was pushing hard to add Wright at this late stage.

Oral Roberts to hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills

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Oral Roberts has found its new head coach as they will hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills, as first reported by NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster.

Mills had been on staff with the Bears since 2003 as he’s been a big factor in why head coach Scott Drew has been able to turn around that program. A graduate of Texas A&M, Mills has been a full-time assistant at Baylor since the 2009 season.

“I am honored to accept this role of representing this historic institution, its students and its mission,” Mills said in a release. “Making this commitment today is a highlight of my career and I look forward with excitement to the basketball season directly ahead. Go Golden Eagles.”

Mills will replace former head coach Scott Sutton, who was relieved of his duties this offseason after 18 years at the helm.

 

Iowa commit Connor McCaffery to redshirt in basketball to pursue baseball

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Iowa commit Connor McCaffery is in a unique spot when he starts his freshman year in Iowa City next year.

Not only is the 6-foot-4 guard the son of basketball head coach Fran McCaffery, while being a four-star national basketball prospect, but Connor also has a bright future in baseball.

There was a lot of speculation as to what Connor might do for his future in athletics and he gave more clarification on what he might be looking to do on Friday.

McCaffery has decided to redshirt in basketball next season to focus on the beginnings of his baseball career at Iowa. A walk-on for both sports, the move enables Connor McCaffery to potentially play three years of basketball with his younger brother, Patrick, who is also a heralded basketball recruit for Iowa. This move also gives Connor the best chance to pursue both sports while he’ll also help out a young Iowa basketball team with its tough scholarship scenario.

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

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Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and I’m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment – both by our university and by Chris – allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.